With this series of weekly updates, WOLA seeks to cover the most important developments at the U.S.-Mexico border. See past weekly updateshere.
Due to staff travel, we are publishing this week’s Border Update in an abbreviated format.
Biden administration to begin rolling out express asylum screenings
The Biden administration is rolling out, on a pilot basis, a promised program to make asylum-seeking migrants defend their cases within days of their apprehension, while still in CBP’s or Border Patrol’s austere custody conditions, in “credible fear” screening interviews conducted over telephones with asylum officers.
Critics (like the American Immigration Council’s Dara Lind, whose analysis called it “phone booth asylum”) point out that this “expedited removal” process resembles two programs—Prompt Asylum Claim Review (PACR) and Humanitarian Asylum Review Process (HARP)—that the Trump administration had employed. About 75 percent of migrants subject to these programs failed credible fear interviews; under normal conditions, about 75 percent pass. President Biden had terminated PACR and HARP upon assuming the presidency in January 2021.
Asylum officers, who would carry out these credible fear interviews, voiced dismay to CNN. “At this point, I can’t tell the difference between Biden immigration policy and Trump immigration policy,” one said.
The administration is meanwhile pausing its slow rollout of a mid-2022 rule designed to speed the asylum process, the Los Angeles Timesrevealed. Officials said “the pause is a temporary measure designed to ensure that the country’s immigration agencies are prepared for a potential increase in border crossings after the end of Title 42,” the pandemic expulsion authority slated to terminate on May 11. It is possible that many asylum officers assigned to this 2022 process are about to be instead carrying out “expedited removal” credible fear interviews.
Darién Gap migration increases 55 percent from February to March; majority of migrants are Venezuelan
New data from Panama’s government show that in March, 55 percent of migrants toiling through Panama’s notoriously dangerous Darién Gap region—671 people per day—were citizens of Venezuela. This is despite the Biden administration’s use, since October 2022, of the Title 42 expulsion authority to send Venezuelan migrants back to Mexico.
Overall migration through the Darién Gap increased by 55 percent, from 24,657 people (881 per day)in February to 38,099 people (1,229 per day) in March.
The top 10 nationalities of migrants in the Darién Gap in March 2023 were:
Haiti (plus Brazil and Chile, mostly children of Haitians) 8,335
The top 10 nationalities of migrants in the Darién Gap since January 2022 were:
Haiti (plus Brazil and Chile) 55,498
Dominican Republic 2,729
Top U.S., Colombian, and Panamanian officials pledge a strategy in the Darién region
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, U.S. Southern Command Commander Gen. Laura Richardson, and USAID Administrator Samantha Power paid an April 11 visit to Panama, to meet with Colombian and Panamanian counterparts. The situation in the Darién Gap was the central subject.
The three countries agreed “to carry out a two-month coordinated campaign to address the serious humanitarian situation in the Darién.” One of this campaign’s goals is to “end the illicit movement of people and goods through the Darién by both land and maritime corridors.” The governments’ statement does not specify the measures they will take to achieve this strikingly ambitious goal.
Mexico’s migration agency leadership under criminal investigation for Ciudad Juárez detention facility tragedy
Mexico’s National Prosecutor’s Office (Fiscalía General de la República, FGR) has announced charges and arrests of leaders of Mexico’s migration agency (Instituto Nacional de Migración, INM) for their responsibility for the deaths of 40 migrants locked inside an INM provisional detention center, in Ciudad Juárez on March 27. (See WOLA’s March 30 and April 6 Border Updates.) Those who will face charges include the INM’s director, Francisco Garduño. Garduño meets frequently with U.S. counterparts, and the INM receives significant amounts of U.S. training and other assistance.
Before this week, Mexican prosecutors had been seeking charges only against three low-level INM employees in Ciudad Juárez, along with a private security guard and a migrant accused of igniting the fire.
VICEreported on April 6 that the Ciudad Juárez detention facility had operated as a sort of “extortion center” where INM personnel held migrants until they paid $200 bribes.
Alejandro Solalinde, a priest who has long run a migrant shelter in Oaxaca, met with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Solalinde, a vocal López Obrador supporter, has been dropping hints about the INM’s possible replacement with a new “National Commission for Migratory and Foreigners’ Affairs.”
Garduño, the current INM director, would not be a part of this new body, which is still pending López Obrador’s approval. López Obrazor has defended Garduño and said he will remain in his post for now.
Mexico’s government began repatriatingremains of the tragedy’s victims to Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. WOLA has not seen reporting mentioning repatriation of victims to Venezuela.
Misinformation and inability to secure “CBP One” appointments lead migrants to gather, again, at Juárez-El Paso border crossing
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) closed the Paso del Norte bridge between Ciudad Juárez and El Paso for nearly three hours on April 10, after a few hundred migrants unable to secure asylum appointments with the “CBP One” app gathered near the Mexican side of the bridge.
CBS Newsreported that migrants have used the app to secure over 60,000 asylum appointments since its mid-January launch. Border Report, citing Tijuana migration official Enrique Lucero, found that Russians are by far the nationality that has had the most success in obtaining CBP One appointments at San Diego’s port of entry. “6,645 Russians have landed” CBP One asylum appointments, Lucero stated, along with “2,700 Haitians, 1,864 Mexicans and 1,844 Venezuelans.” The official said Russians have been more successful because they tend to “have better phones and can connect faster to the internet.”
The El Paso Timesvisited an abandoned building in Ciudad Juárez that “has become an anteroom for dozens of migrants trying daily—most without success—to use the CBP One digital application to seek asylum at the Southwest border.”
Border-wide, those stranded in Mexico and attempting to use CBP One include potentially “thousands” of citizens of Afghanistan, the Guardianreported. (Note above Afghanistan’s position among the top ten nationalities of migrants passing through the Darién Gap.)
“I didn’t see a protest at the bridge,” tweeted longtime Dallas Morning News reporter Alfredo Corchado, who was in Ciudad Juárez. “I saw hundreds of migrants congregating, looking at their cell phones, confused, misinformed.” Corchado said that migrants with whom he spoke were “lured by false social media posts, including one by Breitbart news, that [the] US is processing migrants.”
A Venezuelan migrant told Ciudad Juárez’s La Verdad, “The news was that supposedly starting April 10 they were going to do like a pilot plan in which they were going to let people in and they were going to do like a quick asylum for them.” (This may be a distorted version of the “expedited removal” pilot program discussed above, which some migrants are reportedly misconstruing as “expedited asylum.”)
Some migrants who spoke to Corchado cited an April 7 Breitbartarticle, authored by retired 32-year Border Patrol agent Randy Clark. The article claimed that Mexico was refusing Title 42 expulsions of Venezuelan citizens from Border Patrol’s sectors in El Paso and Del Rio, Texas, and that as a result, “Venezuelan nationals… will now be allowed to apply for asylum instead of being swiftly returned.” In a Twitter exchange with WOLA staff, Clark said that Border Patrol may be moving Venezuelan migrants to other sectors, where Mexico continues to accept expulsions.
The El Paso city government’s migration dashboard, which includes CBP data, shows no appreciable increase in CBP migrant encounters or releases of migrants into the city. It does, however, show sharp recent growth in the number of migrants in the custody of Border Patrol’s El Paso Sector. The cause of this increase is unclear; an inability to expel some migrants to Mexico could be an explanation.
CBP released body-worn camera footage of a March 14 incident in Arizona, a notable step for transparency. It shows a Border Patrol agent shooting and killing the apparently unarmed driver of a car, at point blank range. (Existing policy allows use of lethal force if agents or others face “an imminent threat of death or bodily injury.”)
Border Patrol agents shot and killed a man who had struck one agent with a “wooden club” on April 2 in rural New Mexico, CBP reported, citing a review of body-worn camera footage.
Volunteers leaving water, canned food, and first aid materials to prevent migrant deaths in a wilderness area east of San Diego allege that Border Patrol agents may have destroyed some of the supplies.
Among the thousands of children separated from their migrant parents by the Trump administration are “hundreds, and possibly as many as 1,000,” kids who are U.S. citizens, born in the United States, the New York Timesreported.
“Seven out of ten Central American migrants who crossed the U.S. border undocumented resorted to a guide or coyote, for an average payment of at least $4,500,” according to data from the Mexican government’s Migration Policy Unit reported by La Jornada.
Mexico sent a delegation of cabinet-level officials to Washington on April 13 to discuss measures to combat northbound fentanyl trafficking and southbound weapons trafficking. Mexican media noted a mismatch in the level of seniority of the two countries’ delegations; the only U.S. cabinet official to meet them was Attorney-General Merrick Garland.
USA Todayreported on a bill moving through the Texas state legislature that would pursue migrants using “roving police units consisting, in part, of ‘law-abiding citizens’—raising the specter of armed vigilantes confronting asylum-seekers at the border.”
During the first two months of 2023, migration continued to increase throughout the Americas, “in most borders except the United States,” which saw some decline, according to the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) April 1 Migration Trends in the Americas report.
IOM’s Missing Migrants Project, which has monitored migrant deaths worldwide since 2014, recorded 1,433 deaths of migrants in the Americas in 2022, the largest annual amount since its program began.